Dr. Mark Hagerott, chancellor for the North Dakota University System (NDUS), likens cybersecurity to those old black-and-white western movies, in which the stagecoach was guarded by a heavily armed cowboy.

“If you could not have safety and security in the traditional society and economy, it could not function,” he shares. And that sentiment pertains to the digital world, too, where online identities, credit scores and a myriad of services and information is stored, used – and stolen.

Dr. Mark Hagerott Courtesy PHOTO

“It is an exploding area, enabling economic activity and enabling social interaction. It’s not an option, it’s becoming necessary for people,” Hagerott says of cyberspace. “Consequently, it’s generating huge demands for an educated workforce who understands it.”

That’s where the armed security force, or cybersecurity, becomes important.

Cybersecurity was identified by TechND as the No. 1 workforce need, Hagerott says, and North Dakota’s colleges and universities are beginning to respond to that need.

“If you can train North Dakota people in these fields, rather than hiring from out of state, there’s a much higher propensity for them to stay here,” says Hagerott, who previously served as distinguished professor and deputy director of the Center for Cyber Security Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Colleges step forward
Recently, both Bismarck State College (BSC) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) were named among those having the distinction of being a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education and Cyber Defense by the National Security Agency. BSC was designated for its associate degree education and NDSU for research.

“The nation’s cyber warfare command certifies schools that can produce people to protect you,” Hagerott explains.

To receive their designations, the schools had to meet strict requirements, including a cyber defense academic curriculum path; student skill development and assessment; a “center” for cyber education; cyber faculty qualifications and records of courses taught; cyber defense as a multidisciplinary practice at the institution; an institutional security plan; cyber outreach and collaboration beyond the institution; and producing graduate-level students in cyber defense. Each requirement contains numerous criteria, according to NDUS.

“That is a really big deal,” Hagerott says. “We successfully competed against some pretty big headwinds to get that.”

Until this certification of BSC and NDSU, North Dakota was one of only four states in the entire nation with no certifications, Hagerott says.

NDSU is now the only research-certified university in the Upper Midwest. NDSU is also the only university in the country now offering a doctorate degree in cyber education, meaning it can now “teach the teachers.”

“This designation puts a stamp of approval on our program and essentially shows that BSC is teaching the curriculum and supporting the opportunities and extracurricular activities that our students need to be qualified to defend the nation. Because we have this designation, our graduates now are qualified for federal jobs in the cyber field,” Matthew Frohlich, BSC associate professor of computers and office technology, shares in a news release.

The designations for BSC and NDSU formally recognize the educational programming currently being offered, and opens the door to potential funding through the National Science Foundation.
BSC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in cybersecurity and computer networks. Beginning this fall, BSC is also offering a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in cybersecurity and information technology, as well as numerous industry certifications.

In July 2018, BSC entered into an educational partnership with global cybersecurity leader Palo Alto Networks, expanding the college’s cyber education programs and enabling BSC to scale online and classroom cybersecurity offerings, according to NDUS.

“There is a critical shortage of professionals with cybersecurity skills, and the national cyber strategy highlights the importance of higher education as a solution to defending America’s cyberspace,” BSC President Larry C. Skogen shares in a new release. “Just as the federal government continues to invest in programs that build the domestic talent pipeline, BSC will continue to be the polytechnic leader in North Dakota, as well as nationally, for cybersecurity resources and education.”

NDSU is an Institute for Cyber Security Education and Research, developing software and IT practices. The NDSU Computer Science Department offers two programs related to cybersecurity: a graduate certificate in cybersecurity and department-issued recognition, as well as a Master of Science or doctorate in computer science or software engineering.

Other North Dakota colleges are also addressing the need for educating cybersecurity-literate graduates. Lake Region State College, Williston State College, Dakota College at Bottineau, Valley City State University and Turtle Mountain Community College have formed the Northern Information Technology Consortium to enable all five campuses to offer additional options in IT courses to their students. VCSU brings the option of a four-year degree to the member campuses.

Filling the workforce gap
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the information security field will see a 28 percent projected growth outlook – well ahead of other sectors – expected in the coming decade. Likewise, Forbes magazine reported in 2017 that cybersecurity-related jobs remained as a field with a massive skills gap. Other reports noted that the field of cybersecurity would need 1 million more professionals around the globe in the coming years.

“Cybersecurity has shown major growth potential since the first computer was hooked up to the internet,” Hagerott says. “With billions of people and tens of billions of devices connected now, these designations at BSC and NDSU will allow our programs to flourish even further. Not only are our students able to find immediate use for their knowledge, skills and abilities, but North Dakota businesses will be able to recruit for their needs right here knowing they’re getting the best possible candidates.”

Cybersecurity affects all the major industries in North Dakota, Hagerott says. As cyber criminals approach the “doorsteps” of North Dakota homes and businesses, North Dakota has an opportunity to arm the stagecoach.

“This could be a very promising growth opportunity,” he says.

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.